As a bit of a sci-fi fan, I’ve got quite a high “WTF?” threshold – that being the nature of the genre. When you find yourself chucked into some strange world in the distant future, it’s naturally exhilarating and bewildering. Patience is needed when encountering new life forms, alongside caution as you try to understand their strange ways, because the effort should be worth it.
Try as I might, though, I can’t yet say that’s true of Sky’s new series Intergalactic, set in a united Earth renamed “Commonworld” in the year 2143 (so, presumably, Brexit got reversed after all). On one level, its introductory episode is commendably straightforward. Cop of the future Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn) is patrolling around London in her sporty little spacecraft when she is called on to apprehend a notorious thief named Verona (Imogen Daniels). This she does, but she’s then fitted up for the crime by her boss, using a hi-tech version of what we now call deepfake video. (We don’t know why “Wendell” (Neil Maskell) does this, but he bears a disconcerting resemblance to Tosh out of The Bill.) Ash is sentenced to exile in an off-Earth penal colony, and finds herself on a prison ship with a gang of female reprobates – including her would-be nemesis Verona. There’s a break-out, Ash is forced to fly the prison spaceship, and the adventures begin.
Meanwhile, Ash’s VIP mum Rebecca (Parminder Nagra), a kind of futuristic Hillary Clinton in a Persil-white pantsuit, establishes her daughter’s innocence and orders the authorities to rescue her, but the attempt is botched. Ash – who we do feel for – is trapped and helpless, surrounded by feuding maniacs on a journey into evil, like an honest civil servant working for Boris Johnson.
Intergalactic is really best thought of as Prisoner: Cell Block H launched into hyperspace, but thus far without the kind of rich character development we saw in the classic 1980s Aussie drama. For one thing, there’s a severe shortage of the kind of wacky creatures you’d expect to see banged up in a 22nd century jail (cyclopses, Vulcans with pointy ears, big hairy fellas that look like Bungle off Rainbow, alien warriors with teeth). No: all we get is one girl with a forked tongue and another with prehensile dreadlocks. All very welcome, let me assure you, but I really did expect more. I also wondered why so much of the action takes place running around in corridors, just like it did in the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who episodes.
That said, the digital reimagining of London is breathtakingly impressive, with London Bridge and St Paul’s just about recognisable as dilapidated relics, dwarfed among the vast bland concrete and glass blocks, thus suggesting that architects and planners will learn. Everyone looks like they’ve just stepped out of a trendy bar in Peckham where the beer tastes of lemon and they won’t accept cash, which is as you’d expect.
At least in 2143 we seem to have solved our diversity problem, as the cast overwhelmingly comprises women and people of colour, but I’d have appreciated a bit more diversity at the fantastical creatures level, too – and ironically enough, a bit more evidence of old-fashioned human emotions and motivations. Still, at least they’re not all wearing masks, keeping two metres apart and still in lockdown. Something for mankind to look forward to.
‘Intergalactic’ begins Friday 30 April at 9pm on Sky